Core of 2013 Roster

As the month of August winds down when a team is out of playoff competition it is almost inevitable that fan focus shifts to the next year. In the case of the Twins, it is too late for there to be any hope for a miracle finish, as if that hope was not already dashed in April, and the way the team has played in recent weeks, waiting for September call-ups to bring new fan interest in watching the games is getting old.

As my first post about 2013, I am going to look at the current set of players and project which ones are most likely to be the core for the coming year. Two factors will be primary in my selecting these players – current/past performance and whether or not they are under contract already for next year. I’ll also consider Ron Gardenhire’s known predilections because, like it or not, they will influence Terry Ryan’s decisions.

Several weeks have passed since the Twins signed Ryan Doumit to an extension, but at the time I saw that as a key move for the 2013 roster. Obviously, Joe Mauer is a given. With his extension, so is Doumit. What may not be as obvious, but I think there is a good case to be made for it, is I believe that signing also all but assures a spot for Drew Butera. I can hear the boos and derision from Twins fans already, but here is the case. Both Mauer and Doumit in recent years have missed a good deal a time due to injuries. Both Mauer (1B and DH) and Doumit (DH and mostly LF) have been in this year’s lineup for many more games than they would have been had they been the number one C with just days off at DH. That has been good for the Twins’ offense. Having Butera as backup and occasionally catching full games has made Gardenhire (here is one of his predilections) feel good about using both of his hitting catchers regularly and not run the risk of giving up the DH in any given ballgame. Keeping only two of these catchers would make them both less productive and Butera is not exactly blocking any other catchers from making the roster. He is not going to get worse as a hitter sitting on the bench and playing rarely. He is a good defensive catcher who calls a good game. Having his weak bat taking up a spot on the bench limiting pinch-hitting options is not enough of a detriment to not keep Butera because of the production of Mauer and Doumit all year. It makes sense to go into 2013 with the same plan. In future years, if better hitting catchers in the system are ready for the major league level, this plan can be altered.

Among the pitchers, very few are what I consider to be core players now. Scott Diamond is the only starter who deserves a guaranteed spot in the rotation. In the bullpen, I see only Glen Perkins and Jared Burton as having spots locked up. That doesn’t mean other current roster members won’t make the team and contribute in positive ways, but it does mean no guarantees for them.

Other position players in the core for 2013 are Josh Willingham, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll. I list only these three because I see Denard Span and Justin Morneau as important trade bait during the off-season. If they are not traded, they become members of the core group. Perhaps the most controversial choice is Carroll. I name him not because I see him in a starting role, but because he is under contract and serves as an excellent utility player whose veteran leadership/mentoring will be needed if the Twins go with young players as starters in the middle infield.

That is the core for 2013. If others want to become part of that core, they are going to have to earn the spot between now and the end of the season.

Nishi Gone?

It looks like the Tsuyoshi Nishioka era is over. One can certainly not blame the Twins if that is the case. He has been anything but what they had envisioned when they bid for the rights to negotiate with him before the 2011 season. He only had an opportunity to play in three games last week after being called up to replace Danny Valencia who was traded to the Red Sox, but in those three games he played so badly he did not deserve any more playing time. Now with the return of Trevor Plouffe from the DL, Nishi has been optioned to Rochester.

Speculation began almost immediately after those three ill-fated games as to what the Twins would do with him. Some complained he should have never been promoted this year. Most anticipate he will be eventually released if a termination deal allowing him to return to play in Japan cannot be worked out first. Many castigated the Twins management for signing him in the first place citing his play as never having demonstrated the skill to be a major league player.

Before laying all the blame on the scouts, senior management, etc., I think at least one other factor should be considered as contributing to his failures. Although I am not a mental health professional, from all I have read about the syndrome, I think Nishi shows all the classic symptoms of Performance Anxiety. It is entirely possible that he is much more capable than he appears when in a Twins uniform. He may well have been very good in Japan, showing promise for success here. I believe the scouts and minor league management when they say he did show markedly better performance in Rochester after he settled down there this spring. No scout, manager or coach can predict which players are going to suddenly develop serious anxiety issues. But it is not too difficult to understand how it is possible to put an incredible amount of pressure on oneself to perform on the “big stage”. In his time with the Twins, he has never really relaxed or managed to settle in to a groove. Classic Performance Anxiety.

While I think it was a reasonable decision to call him up this time (for a lot of reasons), I do not think it was wise to put him right into the starting lineup at Cleveland where he had played so badly last year contributing to the infamous Pavano meltdown. Anxiety often is triggered by returning to settings of previous disasters. All the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of a place can evoke the same feelings of anxiety that existed previously. He might have adjusted to his return to the major league team better if he could have watched from the dugout for a game or two, maybe entering late in the blowout game just to let him get his feet under him. I doubt he would have felt quite as much pressure on the first ball hit his direction if it occurred with an 11 run lead rather than the very first play of the ballgame.

Unfortunately, that is moot now. He is once again off the major league roster, though at least for now he remains on the 40-man roster. With all the media and fan reaction to how poorly he played this time around, it is difficult to imagine him ever returning to the Twins. One can only wonder if his career could have been salvaged if the Twins had a good sports psychologist who could have helped him work through all the issues he has had to deal with, from adjusting to a foreign culture to high-profile divorce to severely broken leg to media frenzy including many from Japan.

The brutal fact remains: Nishi is not ready for major league baseball. For the Twins that means one more year of his guaranteed $3 million salary eating up valuable payroll cash that could be used to improve the starting rotation next year. Whether he remains on the Twins’ extended roster or not is still to be seen, but I expect him to be removed sometime during the off-season, if not before, to make room for some prospects who need to be added.

I must say I am disappointed because I thought having a player from Japan would add some interest and an additional international flavor to the franchise. With his failure, it may be a while before the Twins dip their toes into that water again.

Explaining the Paucity of Posts

What happened? When I began posting on this site last September, I had no idea if this experiment would last or how it might evolve if it did. I most certainly would never have anticipated how little posting I would do during the baseball season! In fact, I would probably have thought it would be easier to post daily with all the games and various stories surrounding the Twins in-season providing plenty of inspiration for regular posts.

As it turns out, even being retired and mostly footloose and fancy free, I seem to have only so many hours in the day that I’m able or willing to give to baseball related activities. During the season those hours tend to be spent watching the games and reading stories, blogs, comments, etc. about the Twins as well as what others think is going on. Even as easy as it is to do, Tweeting has not been much of a factor for me so far.

Maybe that will all change in the future, but somehow I don’t think it will very soon. Often I find my thoughts falling in line with what other sports writers and bloggers have already said and thus having lost any sense of originality have less motivation to just write something. Let’s face it. Writing well takes some effort that requires at least minimal incentive.

As I have said on my Purpose page, I did not start this blog with the primary purpose of finding an audience and expanding the readership of the site. That is not to say I am not interested at all in having others read what I am writing. In fact, as I think about it now, the fact that I lose motivation to write because I don’t have anything unique to add to the Twins blogosphere means I must care about readers enough to want to provide something original.

Obviously, I do not love the act of writing enough to be driven to write something, no matter what, each day or at least regularly. What will be interesting to me over the next few months is if I find enough interest and have enough ideas percolating to write more often in the off-season again when the number of news stories dwindles significantly and some bloggers/commenters drop off the radar screen until the next season begins, and, of course, when I won’t be spending three or more hours per day just watching the Twins play the game.

One other factor that I’m quite sure has had an impact on how often I post here is the emergence and rapid growth of the Twins Daily site just before spring training this year. That drew a number of the bloggers I followed regularly and quickly became a center for discussion with its forum board, as well as the opportunity to post as a blogger. So far, I have resisted the temptation to cross-post there. One reason is I am not entirely sure I intend to keep this site going and don’t want it to show up one day on the blog list there and be gone shortly after. The “brand” for Minnesota Twins Musings, even as scantily known as it is currently, is worth protecting for the long-term – just in case. If I cross-post at Twins Daily and readers start to show some continued interest, I would not want to have the brand tarnished if I decide to slow down or put this site on a lengthy hiatus.

I like my freedom. I like to write about whatever I want. I like not having any external deadlines or expectations for how often I must post. To be honest, I would also like readers following and commenting on what I write, but as of now, probably not quite enough to give up the aforementioned freedom. Regular readers expect new content at least periodically.

Ultimately, I started this blog because it provides a venue for some intellectual stimulation. That, when all else is said and done, is maybe the best reason to continue doing what I do here. Introverted thinkers such as I am absolutely need intellectual stimulation.  Hmm. As I prepare to publish this post, I think it is time to tweak my Purpose page to reflect this realization.